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State Department ‘trying to confirm’ arrest of Nigeria gays

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department says it’s looking into the veracity of reports that gay activists are being arrested in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

The State Department is looking into media reports that authorities in Nigeria are arresting dozens of LGBT activists in the aftermath of passage of an anti-gay law in the country.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said reports of arrests in Nigeria are “very troubling” if true.

“We’re trying to confirm those reports,” Harf said. “I’ve seen them. We don’t know if they’re true or not. If they are true, that would obviously be very troubling. Again, our team is continuing to check on the ground to get new facts to see what’s actually going on.”

According to a report on Tuesday from the Associated Press, human rights activists in Nigeria  claim police are working off a list of 168 suspects — purportedly obtained through torture — to arrest dozens of gay men in the country. A police official reportedly denied any use of torture, and accounts of the number of arrests vary from as low as 11 to as high as 38.

Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel to Human Rights First, said the reports of arrests demonstrate the impact of the new anti-gay law in Nigeria, which was signed last week by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

“This is truly the worst case scenario,” Gaylord said. “When discriminatory bills like this are passed, we are always concerned that they set the stage for violence and ill treatment in society even when they are not enforced. But the fact that this law is being enforced so quickly and forcefully demonstrates the full extent of Nigeria’s human rights crisis.”

Under the new anti-gay law in Nigeria, same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships” are banned as well as membership in LGBT groups. The statute contains a provision allowing punishment of up to 14 years in prison for attempting to enter into a same-sex marriage.

After being unable to answer some questions from the podium on Monday for the Blade regarding the anti-gay law, Harf on Tuesday offered some answers.

For starters, after saying that passage of the law is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations, Harf was able to identify which obligation the law violates: the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. Nigeria joined the 167-party agreement that aims to protect the civil and political rights of individuals in 1993.

“The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act not only prohibits same-sex marriage in Nigeria; it also includes broadly worded provisions implicating the rights to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association that are set forth in the ICCPR,” Harf said. “So, when we were talking about international law, that’s what we were referring to.”

Harf also clarified which U.S. officials spoke with officials in Nigeria prior to passage of the anti-gay law, saying they consisted of individuals at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the U.S. consulate general in Lagos and Washington officials. These officials, Harf said, helped Nigerians who support LGBT rights chart a course to “support the LGBT community there and to help Nigerians who are opposed to discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Still, Harf said she didn’t have an answer to a previous inquiry about whether U.S. officials had any knowledge that Jonathan would sign the legislation before he took that action.

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later said the U.S. government has been monitoring the legislation for some time.

“We have been closely monitoring the progress of this law as it moved through the legislative process and have engaged regularly with the [government of Nigeria] and civil society on our concerns about the proposed legislation,” Stevens said.

Additionally, Harf said she didn’t have any announcements about conversations the U.S. would have in the future about the Nigerian government on the anti-gay law, but said the administration would continue to voice concerns given the opportunity.

“One thing I learned to do is not make predictions from the podium about anything,” Harf said. “Like I said, I don’t have anything to announce about any conversations. We regularly raise it. I’ve been very clear from here about our position. If we have any updates, then I’m happy to let you know.”

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke out against the anti-gay law, marking the first statement against the statute by the intergovernmental organization.

“International human rights law and jurisprudence clearly indicate that states have a legal duty to protect all individuals from violations of their human rights, including on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Pillay said. “Disapproval of homosexuality by the majority on moral or religious grounds does not justify criminalizing or discriminating against LGBT persons.”

Pillay urged the high court in Nigeria to examine the constitutionality of the new law at the next opportunity.

For its part, Harf acknowledged the State Department is concerned that passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria represents a growing trend of anti-gay activity in Africa.

“We are deeply concerned by some of the recent developments we have seen in Africa with respect to human rights of LGBT individuals, including passage of the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ by Uganda’s parliament and also increasing arrest of LGBT individuals in countries, such as Cameroon and Zambia,” Harf said. “Human rights are a cornerstone of our foreign policy; we say this all the time, and we will continue to support the efforts of our human defenders in Africa and across the globe who are working to end discrimination against LGBT persons.”

14
Jan
2014

Understanding Israel in all its complexity

Tel Aviv, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade, gay pride

Tel Aviv gay pride. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

By STUART KURLANDER & ALAN RONKIN

History matters. Facts matter. Both were tossed to the wind by Pauline Park in a recent op-ed in the Washington Blade, who assailed the American Jewish Committee and its signature Project Interchange program. Without any explanation, she asserted that AJC “is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

Nonsense! AJC, of course, is a strong advocate for an Israel that thrives in peace and security, and continues to support a negotiated two-state solution to achieve sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. As a global advocacy organization, AJC has brought that message to the top leaders of many countries, including Arab nations.

But Park’s baseless accusation is the foundation for her criticizing American LGBT community leaders who participated in an educational visit to Israel and the West Bank with AJC’s Project Interchange. For over 30 years, more than 6,000 leaders from across the United States and 84 other countries have participated in Project Interchange’s unique, weeklong educational seminars in Israel.

Project Interchange’s success is rooted in its non-ideological approach. By introducing first-time visitors to a broad range of Israelis, who offer diverse narratives across the political, social and religious spectrum, seminar participants gain an appreciation for Israel as a dynamic diverse society. What’s more, AJC’s Project Interchange participants travel to the West Bank, where they meet with a range of Palestinian leaders, including at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority.

Yes, Israel has challenges like other democratic nations, though Israel’s challenges have special significance given the history of the conflict and its neighborhood. Project Interchange is not afraid to show Israel in all its complexity, “warts and all.” What visitors find is a robust democratic nation, where, among other things, there are freedoms of speech, religion and sexual orientation. Indeed, Tel Aviv was named the No. 1 gay city in the world in a broad survey by GayCities.com and American Airlines.

The LGBT delegation that visited Israel in October fulfilled AJC’s desire to introduce this important segment of American society to Israel. When it comes to understanding Israel, there is simply no substitute for first-hand, on-the-ground experience. The group seized the opportunities to engage directly with Israelis and Palestinians in open conversations. As part of their program, the LGBT delegation visited Ramallah, as do other Project Interchange groups, to engage with Palestinian leaders. Regrettably, Palestinian LGBT groups rejected the opportunity to meet with their U.S. counterparts.

Park, however, as a member of the New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, offers a preconceived, politically myopic view of Israel. One has to wonder whether she or any members of her delegation met with, or even expressed a desire to meet with, any mainstream Israelis on her 2012 visit to the region. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder whether her use of the term “occupation” refers to the period since June 1967, following Israel’s war of survival, or to 1948, when Israel was established as an independent country following a UN recommendation.

Let’s remember that a Palestinian state could have been established at the same time. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 divided the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. That was the original two-state solution. But the Arabs rejected that concept. Sixty-six years later the two-state solution is still on the table.

And, let’s recall Israel did not set out to govern the Palestinians. Israel came to rule over Gaza and the West Bank not by choice, but in a defensive war in June 1967, when neighboring Arab states — particularly Egypt and Syria — threatened time and again to overrun and destroy the young country.

Israel has tried relentlessly to find negotiating partners to exchange land for peace. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994. But the Palestinian leadership rebuffed Israel’s substantial peace offers in 2000, in 2001 and again in 2008. These historical facts are ignored by Park, her organization and other supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) anti-Israel movement, which at its core dismisses Israel’s right to exist.

Our utmost hope is that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the key assistance of the U.S., will yield an enduring agreement. Both peoples deserve to live in peace and security. Tellingly, Park and her organization don’t seem to share the same goals for one of those peoples.

Stuart Kurlander is a board member of AJC Washington; Alan Ronkin is executive director of AJC’s Washington regional office.

22
Jan
2014

U.N. report criticizes Vatican over anti-gay rhetoric, sex abuse

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A U.N. committee has sharply criticized the Vatican over its opposition to homosexuality and other issues.

“The committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples,” said the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in a report it released on Wednesday.

The committee described Pope Francis’ statement last July that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized as “progressive” and “positive.” The U.N. body nevertheless urged the Catholic Church to address discrimination against gay and lesbian children and those born to unmarried parents.

“The committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalization of homosexuality,” reads the report.

The report also criticized the Vatican over its response to the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” it said.

The committee also criticized the Holy See over its ongoing opposition to abortion, access to contraception and information about sexual and reproductive health.

The Associated Press reported that Archbishop Silvano Tomasi on Wednesday said LGBT advocacy groups and those who back marriage rights for same-sex couples “reinforced an ideological line” with the committee.

The report’s release comes against the backdrop of Francis’ ongoing efforts to temper the Vatican’s rhetoric against homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other social issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” said Francis during an extensive interview that La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, published last September. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 kissed and washed the feet of 12 people with AIDS during a visit to a local hospice. He also spearheaded opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010.

Fernández sharply criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio after he categorized the gay nuptials measure as a “demonic plan” and called for a “holy war” against it.

Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, on Twitter questioned what the Advocate — which named Francis as their 2013 person of the year — and Rolling Stone — which placed him on the cover of the magazine’s Jan. 29 issue — would say “about their idol the pope after the U.N.’s definitive report about sexual abuse and cover-up”

“Beyond the nice declarations about sexual diversity, Francis and the Vatican cannot continue turning their backs to the reality that it has affected the lives of millions of boys and girls around the world,” Paulón told the Washington Blade from New York where he and six other Latin American LGBT rights advocates are on a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip. “They clearly demonstrate a network of guaranteed impunity from senior Vatican officials (including the pope) for those criminals.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., also welcomed the U.N. report.

“Many government leaders around the world and many Catholics in the pews have expressed the opinions that report articulated so clearly that the Vatican’s negative messages against LGBT people cause violence, harm and in some cases death,” he said.

DeBernardo added he expects Francis will respond to the report because “a prestigious organization like the U.N. puts weight behind that message.”

05
Feb
2014

Ban Ki-moon highlights LGBT rights during Sochi speech

Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday noted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter “enshrines” the International Olympic Committee’s “opposition to any form of discrimination.” (Photo courtesy of All Out)

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for an end to anti-LGBT discrimination and violence during a speech in Sochi, Russia, that coincided the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” said Ban during remarks he gave during an International Olympic Committee meeting. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Ban did not specifically reference Russia’s controversial law banning gay propaganda to minors during his speech. He noted “many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice.”

“I know that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC’s opposition to any form of discrimination,” said Ban.

Ban’s comments come nearly two months after the U.N. used the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to highlight efforts to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts moderated a Dec. 10 panel at the U.N. on which retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, South African activist Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, intersex advocate Huda Viloria, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic sat. Singer Melissa Etheridge is among those who also attended the event.

The U.N. last July announced its “Free and Equal” campaign designed to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. Singers Ricky Martin and Daniela Mercury and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly are among those who back the effort.

“The United Nations stands strongly behind our own ‘Free and Equal’ campaign,” said Ban in Sochi. “I look forward to working with the IOC, Governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance.”

06
Feb
2014

U.N. says anti-gay Nigerian law could hurt health

Nigeria, Nigerian embassy, protest, gay news, Washington Blade, U.N.

(Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

ABUJA, Nigeria — The U.N. human rights chief expressed concern last week that Nigeria’s new anti-gay law may have negative consequences on public health there, the AP reports. Navi Pillay says the law could hinder government, civil and religious groups from delivering HIV education and preventative care and deter gay and transgender people from seeking services.

She told Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke at a meeting on March 13 that the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act violates fundamental human rights and the Nigerian constitution.

Adoke said the laws “do not criminalize individual sexual orientation.” He indicated there would be no consideration for Pillay’s call for a moratorium on prosecutions, the AP said.

The minister said a poll showed 92 percent of Nigerians support the law. It further criminalizes homosexuality as well as people working in HIV/AIDS programs for gays, who have a much higher infection rate, the article said.

19
Mar
2014

Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.

26
Mar
2014

United Nations unveils global LGBT rights campaign

Ricky Martin, music, HRC National Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

Ricky Martin is among those who supports a new U.N. campaign in support of LGBT rights (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The United Nations on Friday officially launched a public education campaign designed to increase support for LGBT rights around the world.

The year-long effort, which the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights unveiled during a press conference in Cape Town, South Africa, seeks to raise awareness of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination and encourage what it describes as “greater respect for the rights of LGBT people.”

The “Free & Equal” campaign will stress what a press release described as the “need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia.” The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will also produce a number of videos that are similar to the one it released in May to mark the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and gay South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, who lives with HIV, joined U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Cape Town press conference.

“Changing attitudes is never easy. But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one,” Pillay said. “It begins with often difficult conversations. And that is what we want to do with this campaign. ‘Free & Equal’ will inspire millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”

The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.

South Africa is among the 11 countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry, but more than 70 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts.

An increasing number of LGBT rights advocates have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Russian vodka in response to recently enacted laws that ban so-called gay propaganda and same-sex couples from other countries from adopting Russian children. Four Dutch LGBT advocates returned to the Netherlands earlier this week after authorities in the Russian city of Murmansk arrested them under the country’s anti-gay propaganda law after they interviewed a teenager for a documentary on gay life in Russia.

The reported murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the Jamaican resort city of Montego Bay earlier this week sparked outrage among LGBT rights advocates in the Caribbean nation. The U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch are among the groups that condemned the killing of prominent Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate Eric Ohena Lembembe who was found dead inside his home in the country’s capital on July 15.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe earlier this month sparked controversy when he said during a campaign rally ahead of his country’s July 31 elections that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children.

“The [U.N.'s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights — no exceptions, no one left behind,” Pillay said. “Yet it’s still a hollow promise for many millions of LGBT people forced to confront hatred, intolerance, violence and discrimination on a daily basis.”

Singers Ricky Martin and Daniela Mercury and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly are among those who have pledged to support the campaign.

26
Jul
2013

LGBT issues discussed at first-of-its-kind U.N. meeting

Bogota, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

A USAID-sponsored training in Bogotá, Colombia, in May drew 30 LGBT activists from across the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Global LGBT advocacy efforts were among the issues discussed during the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York.

USAID, the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA,) the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the Ford Foundation on Tuesday hosted a meeting of funders of global LGBT advocacy efforts.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, SIDA Director General Charlotte Petri Gornitzka and former Planet Out CEO Megan Smith, who is now vice president of Google[x], attended the gathering alongside high level officials from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Swedish, the United Kingdom, the U.N. Development Program, the State Department and the World Bank.

Representatives from the American Jewish World Service, the Arcus Foundation, the Fund for Global Rights, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, the Dutch foundation Mama Cash, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Open Society Foundation and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights are among the other groups that took part in the meeting. Organizers said it drew 85 percent of groups around that contribute to global LGBT efforts.

“It was a seminal moment in history because it is the first global meeting where public and private donors for LGBT equality came together to discuss priorities, programs and potential collaboration for ways forward,” senior USAID advisor Claire Lucas told the Washington Blade on Friday.

USAID in April announced the LGBT Global Development Partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, (SIDA) and other groups will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Honduras and other developing countries. The initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogotá late last month and in the spring respectively.

Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute added his organization remains “proud” to “partner in this work” with USAID and Astraea as he discussed Tuesday’s meeting with the Blade.

“This meeting was an important step in recognizing the truly global effort to advance LGBT human rights, and the leadership role now being played by the U.S. is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago,” he said.

Funders of global LGBT initiatives met in New York two days before Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives from 10 countries issued a declaration that calls for an end to anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Members of the LGBT Core Group at U.N. that includes the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway declared their “strong and determined commitment to eliminating violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“We reaffirm our conviction that human rights are the birthright of every human being,” the statement reads. “Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) must enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Affairs Dean Pittman told the Blade during an interview from New York on Friday the meeting and the declaration underscores the U.N. and the U.S. are committed to “pursuing and advancing LGBT rights around the world.”

“Everybody’s reinforced the idea that everyone deserves human rights,” Pittman said. “It shouldn’t be a decision of who you are, who you love, what your gender is.”

Pittman further categorized the statement as “really strong, powerful.”

“This really has a ripple effect that sort of goes out through LGBT communities around the world who see this as sort of a vote of confidence,” he told the Blade. “[It] sort of gives them the ability to go into their own communities with the backing of a global organization like the U.N. to pursue some of these human rights issues in their own countries.”

The meeting took place two months after the U.N. officially launched a public campaign that seeks to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. It’s been endorsed by singer Ricky Martin and others.

More than 70 countries around the world continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts in spite of a 2011 resolution in support of LGBT rights the U.N. Human Rights Council passed. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Friday said in his speech during the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence” as the Associated Press reported.

85 countries have also backed a U.N. General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights.

President Obama earlier this month met with two Russian LGBT rights advocates during the G-20 summit. Both he and Kerry have also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s LGBT rights record, which includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

Pittman declined to say whether Kerry discussed Russia’s LGBT rights record during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. He said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, briefed Kerry and other ministers on the country’s gay propaganda law before they issued their declaration.

“This is an issue we’ve raised with the Russians at many levels and repeatedly,” Pittman told the Blade. “It’s obviously unacceptable.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley welcomed the meeting and the resolution.

“One would expect Syria and Iran to be on the agenda, but not necessarily human rights for LGBT people,” he told the Blade, referring to the U.N. General Assembly. “For a group of committed foreign ministers to come together during this time, including Sec. Kerry, to pledge collective action to respond to human rights abuses directed at LGBT communities worldwide is unprecedented.”

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

27
Sep
2013

Susan Rice: LGBT rights an essential part of U.S. foreign policy

Susan Rice, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

National Security Advisor Susan Rice (Photo public domain)

National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Wednesday stressed support of LGBT rights remains an essential part of American foreign policy.

“The United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere,” she said during a speech at the Newseum in downtown Washington during Human Rights First’s annual Human Rights Summit. “We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and minorities.”

Rice noted President Obama spoke in support of LGBT rights during a June press conference in the Senegalese capital with the African country’s president the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8. Senegal is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations further highlighted Obama’s meeting with Russian LGBT Network Chair Igor Kochetkov, Olga Lenkova of Coming Out and seven other Russian human rights advocates during the G-20 summit that took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September.

Rice noted the U.S. “often can cooperate with Russia” on arms control and other “vital interests,” but she was quick to criticize the Kremlin’s human rights record.

“As we meet these mutual challenges, we don’t remain silent about the Russian government’s systematic efforts to curtail the actions of Russian civil society, to stigmatize the LGBT community,” Rice said. “We deplore selective justice and the prosecution of those who protest the corruption and cronyism that is sapping Russia’s economic future and limiting its potential to play its full role on the world stage.”

Rice also pointed out in her speech the U.S. has backed pro-LGBT resolutions on the U.N. Human Rights Council and in the Organization of American States and the Pan-American Health Organization.

“No one should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love,” she said. “We’re working to lead internationally as we have domestically on LGBT issues.”

Rice noted the Obama administration supports “full equality” for LGBT Americans that includes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She also cited slain San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and the late-former New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who introduced the first federal gay rights bill in 1975, as among the “champions who fought to bring us closer to ideals” outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that members of the U.N. General Assembly approved 65 years ago this month.

“Continuing their work at home and expanding it around the globe is our great commission as inheritors of their legacy,” Rice said.

Rice served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 until Obama tapped her to succeed then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon in June after he resigned. She backed a resolution in support of LGBT rights the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted in 2011.

She withdrew her name as a potential successor to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late last year amid controversy over the Sept. 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others dead.

04
Dec
2013

Samantha Power: Russia gay propaganda law is ‘outrageous’

Samantha Power, United Nations, Obama Administration, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (Photo by Eric Bridiers; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

NEW YORK–U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Tuesday strongly criticized Russia’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“The recent enactment of Russia’s anti-propaganda law is as outrageous as it is dangerous,” she said as she opened a meeting with more than 30 LGBT rights advocates at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. “It is a reminder that whether the struggle of equality takes the form of equal employee benefits or protection from being imprisoned or executed, we have a long way to go.”

Power also noted during her speech that coincides with the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that 78 countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and northern Nigeria.

“To criticize the criminalization of LGBT status is not cultural imperialism,” said Power. “To deny gays and lesbians the right to live freely and to threaten them with discrimination and even death is not a form of moral or religious Puritanism. It’s in fact barbarism.”

Power also stressed the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela last week “reminds us of what one fearless and passionate voice can achieve when raised in a righteous cause.” Her comments came hours after President Obama made a veiled reference to LGBT rights during his speech at the memorial service for the anti-Apartheid champion in Johannesburg.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice last week said in a speech she gave during Human Rights First’s annual summit in D.C. that LGBT rights remain an essential part of U.S. foreign policy.

Lesbian Russian journalist Masha Gessen and Juliet Mphande, executive director of Rainka Zambia, spoke during the meeting with Power before the Washington Blade and the handful of reporters from other media outlets were asked to leave the room. Turkish Parliamentarian Melda Onur, Wilson Castañera of the Colombian LGBT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo and Center for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley were among those who also attended the roundtable.

Gay former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network and others are scheduled to take part in a panel at the U.N. later on Tuesday that gay MSNBC anchor is scheduled to moderate.

10
Dec
2013